seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Chartist Leader Feargus O’Connor

feargus-edward-o-connorFeargus Edward O’Connor, advocate of the Land Plan and prominent Chartist leader who succeeds in making Chartism the first specifically working class national movement in Great Britain, is born near Castletown-Kinneigh, County Cork on July 18, 1796.

O’Connor is born into a prominent Irish Protestant family who claims to be the descendants of the 12th-century king Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair. He is educated mainly at Portarlington Grammar School and has some elementary schooling in England.

O’Connor practices law but exchanges law for politics when he enters the British Parliament in 1832 as a member for County Cork. Unseated in 1835, he turns to radical agitation in England, although he continues to press Irish grievances and to seek Irish support. As a result of his humour, invective, and energy, he becomes the best known Chartist leader and the movement’s most popular speaker. His journal, the Northern Star (founded in 1837), gains a wide circulation.

O’Connor’s methods and views alienate other Chartist leaders, particularly William Lovett, but in 1841, after spending a year in prison for seditious libel, he acquires undisputed leadership of the Chartists. Failing to lead the movement to victory and vacillating in his attitude toward the middle class and toward the People’s Charter, a six-point bill drafted and published in May 1838, he begins to lose power, although he is elected to Parliament for Nottingham in 1847. The failure of the People’s Charter in 1848 marks the beginning of the end for O’Connor, whose egocentricity is already bordering on madness.

The circulation of the Northern Star falls steadily and it loses money. O’Connor’s health is failing, and reports of his mental breakdown regularly appear in the newspapers. In the spring of 1852 he visits the United States, where his behaviour leaves no doubt that he is not a well man.

In 1852 in the House of Commons O’Connor strikes three fellow MPs, one of them Sir Benjamin Hall, a vocal critic of the Land Plan. Arrested by the Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms, he is sent by his sister to Dr. Thomas Harrington Tuke‘s private Manor House Asylum in Chiswick, where he remains until 1854, when he is moved to his sister’s house. He dies on August 30, 1855 at 18 Albert Terrace, Notting Hill Gate and is buried on September 10 in Kensal Green Cemetery. No fewer than 40,000 people witness the funeral procession. Most Chartists preferred to remember O’Connor’s strengths rather than his shortcomings.

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Death of Composer Michael William Balfe

michael-william-balfeMichael William Balfe, Irish composer best remembered for his opera The Bohemian Girl, dies in Dublin on October 20, 1870.

Balfe is born in Dublin on May 15, 1808, where his musical gifts become apparent at an early age. He receives instruction from his father, a dancing master and violinist, and the composer William Rooke. His family moves to Wexford when he is a child.

In 1817, Balfe appears as a violinist in public, and in this year composes a ballad, first called “Young Fanny” and afterwards, when sung in Paul Pry by Lucia Elizabeth Vestris, “The Lovers’ Mistake”. In 1823, upon the death of his father, he moves to London and is engaged as a violinist in the orchestra of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. He eventually becomes the leader of that orchestra. While there, he studies violin with Charles Edward Horn and composition with Charles Frederick Horn.

While still playing the violin, Balfe pursues a career as an opera singer. He debuts unsuccessfully at Norwich in Carl Maria von Weber‘s Der Freischütz. In 1825, Count Mazzara takes him to Rome for vocal and musical studies and introduces him to Luigi Cherubini. In Italy, he also pursues composing, writing his first dramatic work, a ballet, La Perouse. He becomes a protégée of Gioachino Rossini‘s, and at the close of 1827, he appears as Figaro in The Barber of Seville at the Italian opera in Paris.

Balfe soon returns to Italy, where he is based for the next eight years, singing and composing several operas. In 1829 in Bologna, he composes his first cantata for the soprano Giulia Grisi, then 18 years old. He produces his first complete opera, I rivali di se stessi, at Palermo in the carnival season of 1829—1830.

Balfe returned to London in May 1835. His initial success takes place some months later with the premiere of The Siege of Rochelle on October 29, 1835 at Drury Lane. Encouraged by his success, he produces The Maid of Artois in 1836, which is followed by more operas in English. In July 1838, Balfe composes a new opera, Falstaff, for The Italian Opera House, based on The Merry Wives of Windsor, with an Italian libretto by S. Manfredo Maggione.

In 1841, Balfe founds the National Opera at the Lyceum Theatre, but the venture is a failure. The same year, he premieres his opera, Keolanthe. He then moves to Paris, presenting Le Puits d’amour in early 1843, followed by his opera based on Les quatre fils Aymon for the Opéra-Comique and L’étoile de Seville for the Paris Opera. Meanwhile, in 1843, he returns to London where he produces his most successful work, The Bohemian Girl, on November 27, 1843 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The piece runs for over 100 nights, and productions are soon mounted in New York, Dublin, Philadelphia, Vienna, Sydney, and throughout Europe and elsewhere.

From 1846 to 1852, Balfe is appointed musical director and principal conductor for the Italian Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. There he first produces several of Giuseppe Verdi‘s operas for London audiences. He conducts for Jenny Lind at her opera debut and on many occasions thereafter.

In 1851, in anticipation of The Great Exhibition in London, Balfe composes an innovative cantata, Inno Delle Nazioni, sung by nine female singers, each representing a country. He continues to compose new operas in English, including The Armourer of Nantes (1863), and writes hundreds of songs. His last opera, nearly completed when he dies, is The Knight of the Leopard and achieves considerable success in Italian as Il Talismano.

Balfe retires in 1864 to Hertfordshire, where he rents a country estate. He dies at his home in Rowney Abbey, Ware, Hertfordshire, on October 20, 1870 and is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in London, next to fellow Irish composer William Vincent Wallace. In 1882, a medallion portrait of him is unveiled in Westminster Abbey.

In all, Balfe composes at least 29 operas. He also writes several cantatas and a symphony. His only large-scale piece that is still performed regularly today is The Bohemian Girl.


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Birth of Arctic Explorer Robert McClure

robert-mcclureSir Robert John Le Mesurier McClure, Irish explorer of the Arctic, is born in Wexford, County Wexford on January 28, 1807.

McClure is the posthumous son of one of James Abercrombie‘s captains, first cousin of Oscar Wilde and spends his childhood under the care of his godfather, General John Le Mesurier, governor of Alderney, by whom he is educated for the army. The McClures are of Highland Scots ancestry, being a sept of Clan MacLeod of Harris. He enters the navy, however, in 1824, and twelve years later gains his first experience of Arctic exploration as mate of HMS Terror in the expedition (1836–1837) commanded by Captain George Back.

Upon his return he obtains his commission as lieutenant, and from 1838 to 1839 serves on the Canadian lakes, being subsequently attached to the North American and West Indian naval stations, where he remains until 1846. Two years later he joins John Franklin‘s search expedition (1848–1849) under James Clark Ross as first lieutenant of HMS Enterprise.

After he returns from the first Franklin search expedition, a new search expedition is launched in 1850, with Richard Collinson commanding the HMS Enterprise and McClure, as his subordinate, given the command of HMS Investigator. The two ships set out from England, sail south on the Atlantic Ocean, navigate through the Strait of Magellan to the Pacific Ocean with the assistance of steam-sloop HMS Gorgon, where they become separated and have no further contact for the rest of their respective journeys.

The HMS Investigator sails north through the Pacific and enters the Arctic Ocean by way of the Bering Strait, and sails eastward past Point Barrow, Alaska to eventually link up with another British expedition from the northwest. Although the HMS Investigator is abandoned to the pack ice in the spring of 1853, McClure and his crew are rescued by a party from the HMS Resolute, one of the ships under the command of Sir Edward Belcher that are sailing from the east, after a journey over the ice by sledge. Subsequently he completes his journey across the Northwest Passage. HMS Resolute itself does not make it out of the Arctic that year and is abandoned in ice, but later recovered. The wood from that ship becomes quite famous later.

Thus, McClure and his crew are the first both to circumnavigate the Americas, and to transit the Northwest Passage, considerable feats at that time. The HMS Enterprise, meanwhile, having arrived at Point Barrow in 1850 a fortnight later than the HMS Investigator, finds its passage blocked by winter ice and has to turn back and return the following year.

Upon his return to England, in 1854, McClure is court martialed for the loss of the HMS Investigator, which is automatic when a captain loses his ship. Following an honourable acquittal, he is knighted and promoted to post-rank, his commission being dated back four years in recognition of his special services. McClure and his crew share a great monetary reward of £10,000 awarded them by the British Parliament. He subsequently is also awarded gold medals by the English and French geographical societies. In 1855 he is elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society.

From 1856 to 1861 McClure serves in Eastern waters, commanding the division of the Naval Brigade before Canton in 1858, for which he receives a CB in the following year. His latter years are spent in a quiet country life. He attains the rank of rear admiral in 1867, and of vice admiral in 1873. He dies on October 17, 1873 and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London.

McClure Strait is later named after Robert McClure, as well as the crater McClure on the Moon.


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Birth of Novelist Annie French Hector

Annie French Hector, a popular 19th-century novelist who writes under the pen name “Mrs. Alexander,” is born in Dublin on June 23, 1825.

Hector is the only child of Robert French, a Dublin solicitor. Her family claims to be descended from Irish gentry, the French family of Roscommon and Lord Annaly. On the paternal side, she is related to the poet Charles Wolfe and on her mother’s side, to the Shakespearian scholar, Edmund Malone. Her father loses his money in 1844 and moves first to Liverpool before settling in London.

Hector marries the explorer and archaeologist Alexander Hector in 1858 and together they have four children. She writes several novels during her early life, the first being Kate Vernon in 1854. However, her husband disapproves of her writing so she remains unpublished in his lifetime.

After Alexander Hector’s death in 1875, she uses his first name as her pseudonym and publishes over forty novels as “Mrs. Alexander,” many published by George and Richard Bentley. Among her books, all of which enjoy a wide popularity in the United States, are The Wooing O’t (1873), Ralph Wilton’s Weird (1875), Her Dearest Foe (1876), The Freres (1882), A Golden Autumn (1897), A Winning Hazard (1897), and Kitty Costello (1902).

Hector’s final novel, Kitty Costello, which presents an Irish girl’s introduction to English life and has autobiographic touches, is written when she is 77 years old and is barely completed at her death. A witty, clever talker, of quick sympathies and social instincts, Hector is in many ways abler and broader-minded than is shown in her writings. She dies in London, after suffering from neuritis for ten years, on July 10, 1902, and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.


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Death of Jane Francesca Agnes, Lady Wilde

jane-wildeJane Francesca Agnes, Lady Wilde, Irish poet who writes under the pen name “Speranza” and supporter of the nationalist movement, dies at her home, 146 Oakley Street, Chelsea, London, of bronchitis on February 3, 1896.

Jane is the last of the four children of Charles Elgee, a Wexford solicitor, and his wife Sarah. Her great-grandfather is an Italian who had come to Wexford in the 18th century. She has a special interest in Irish folktales, which she helps to gather. She marries Sir William Wilde on November 12, 1851, and they have three children, William Charles Kingsbury Wilde (1852–1899), Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854–1900), and Isola Francesca Emily Wilde (1857–1867).

Jane, who is the niece of Charles Maturin, writes for the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s, publishing poems in The Nation under the pseudonym of “Speranza.” Her works include pro-Irish independence and anti-British writing. She is sometimes known as “Speranza of the Nation.” Charles Gavan Duffy is the editor when “Speranza” writes commentary calling for armed revolution in Ireland. The authorities at Dublin Castle shut down the paper and bring the editor to court. Duffy refuses to name who has written the offending article. “Speranza” reputedly stands up in court and claims responsibility for the article. The confession is ignored by the authorities. But in any event the newspaper is permanently shut down by the authorities.

She is an early advocate of women’s rights, and campaigns for better education for women. She invites the suffragist Millicent Fawcett to her home to speak on female liberty. She praises the passing of the Married Women’s Property Act of 1883, preventing women from having to enter marriage “as a bond slave, disenfranchised of all rights over her fortune.”

William Wilde is knighted in January 1864, but the family celebrations are short-lived, for in the same year Sir William and Lady Wilde are at the centre of a sensational Dublin court case regarding a young woman called Mary Travers, the daughter of a colleague of Sir William’s, who claims that he had seduced her and who then brings an action against Lady Wilde for libel. Mary Travers wins the case and costs of £2,000 are awarded against Lady Wilde. Then, in 1867, their daughter Isola dies of fever at the age of nine. In 1871 the two illegitimate daughters of Sir William are burned to death and in 1876 Sir William himself dies. The family discovers that he is virtually bankrupt.

Lady Wilde leaves Dublin for London in 1879, where she joins her two sons, Willie, a journalist, and Oscar, who is making a name for himself in literary circles. She lives with her older son in poverty, supplementing their meagre income by writing for fashionable magazines and producing books based on the researches of her late husband into Irish folklore.

Lady Wilde contracts bronchitis in January 1896 and, dying, asks for permission to see Oscar, who is in prison. Her request is refused. It is claimed that her “fetch” appears in Oscar’s prison cell as she dies at her home, 146 Oakley Street, Chelsea, on February 3, 1896. Willie Wilde, her older son, is penniless, so Oscar pays for her funeral, which is held on February 5, at Kensal Green Cemetery in London. A headstone proved too expensive and she is buried anonymously in common ground. A monument to her, in the form of a Celtic cross, is erected at Kensal Green Cemetery by the Oscar Wilde Society in 1999.